Lincoln Public Schools to purchase and install more vape detectors

This article originally appeared on Lincoln Journal Star. To view the original article, click here.

Small devices that detect vaping in bathrooms will continue to be added at high schools — and someday middle schools — across Lincoln.

Currently, Lincoln East High School is the only school at Lincoln Public Schools to have vape detectors, but that is set to change soon.

The Lincoln Board of Education on Tuesday approved a nearly $200,000 bid from Kidwell Electric to purchase 150 more vape detectors.

The district doesn’t yet know which high schools will receive this round of detection devices or when they will be installed, but officials hope to have them soon in all eight high schools and LPS’ 12 middle schools, according to Ryan Zabawa, director of student services.

“We know that these kids are vaping. We know that there’s a major problem in our community and in our nation,” Zabawa said.

Lincoln East has been piloting the vape detectors since the beginning of October when they were installed in all 24 of the school’s bathrooms. In the month or so since, the school has already seen a drastic improvement in the number of vaping incidents reported on campus, Zabawa said.

The district has been seeing an increase in vape usage among students for years and the users continue to get younger and younger, Zabawa said, calling it a “large-scale issue.”

“We’re seeing more and more (incidents) each year, and we’re also seeing those numbers trickling down into our elementary schools,” Zabawa said. “We need to do what we can to try and curb this from occurring.”

The district will have more accurate data on the impact of vape detectors in the months and years to come after they’ve had the technology implemented for some time, officials said.

“Whether or not the students are not using vapes anymore, we’re pretty certain that they’re no longer using them in our schools as a result of the devices,” he said.

When the district decides which schools will receive this second batch of detection devices, a notice will be sent out to students’ families informing them of the new technology, and signs will be placed outside of each restroom stating that vape detectors are in use.

While the devices can detect the nicotine vapor produced by e-cigarettes, they do not record video, audio or anything that could personally identify students. However, administrators are notified when the devices detect vapor and investigate to find out which students are responsible.

The district’s new electronic hall pass system can aid this process as staff will have access to which students were signed out of class at the time.

The devices can also detect THC vapes and have the option to light up and make noise when vapor is detected. However, the district does not plan to use this setting.

Students who are caught vaping have the option to enroll in a Vape Education program. Those who opt out will face other disciplinary measures like suspension.

The devices are paid for through a settlement from a class action lawsuit against the popular e-cigarette company Juul. LPS participated in the so-called mass-action litigation claiming Juul targeted teenagers, which earned the district just under $1 million.

It was recommended by Superintendent Paul Gausman in April that the district use a portion of the settlement on vape detection devices. The rest of the funds are set to be used for vaping intervention, too.